When the fiercely xenophobic Krellonian Star Alliance faces a planetary emergency on one of their colony worlds which has left their medical community baffled, they have no choice but to turn to the Federation for desperate needed help.
The starship Eagle
, after much needed shore leave and a comprehensive systems overhaul, is dispatched to cross half a quadrant to assist the Krellonians before the situation can get out of hand.
But as Captain Owens and his crew are quick to learn, much more may be afoot on this remote world than they were led to believe as a threat to not just to the Federation but to the entire galaxy begins to emerge.
Take the first step in a journey that will go beyond time and space in Book One of the Quantum Divergence
And don’t miss the Road to Quantum Divergence
stories, Civil War
Expanded Universes Characters:
The Star Eagle Adventures
18 Dec 2017 Updated:
13 Jan 2018
1. Somewhere, Somewhen by CeJay
2. Prologue: Anything Goes - 1 by CeJay
3. Prologue: Anything Goes - 2 by CeJay
4. Part One: Trust No One - 1 by CeJay
5. Part One: Trust No One - 2 by CeJay
Somewhere, Somewhen by CeJay
All of reality was dying.
That much had already been determined. The equations and calculations simply could not allow for any other conclusion. To deny this simple fact was tantamount to denying the existence of reality itself.
And the study of reality was their entire raison d'être, their paramount purpose and their most sacred of responsibilities.
Perhaps it had been different once. Before such considerations as the past, the present and the future had warranted separate and altogether different avenues of thought and philosophy. But once those distinctions had been left behind and deemed irrelevant when contemplating the total sum of reality, considered as too much of an impediment to fully comprehending and appreciating everything that was, is and ever will be, once they had reached that next stage of cognitive evolution, their duty had become inescapably clear.
And who was there to say otherwise?
In the age before this one, when linear thoughts about time and space had still prevailed, there had been other voices alongside their own. There had been such a time when life had been abundant within reality.
Long before the great leap forward, before the vast obligation to all of the meta-universe had even played a role in their thoughts, there had been galaxies and stars and planets on which other beings toiled their daily lives away. And they had reached out to many of those, even if their inferiority had never been in question. There had been a community once, spreading across the galactic hemispheres.
Other life had simply run its course over the millennia. Stars and entire galaxies had come and gone while at the same time they had grown and spread and evolved until they were all that remained across the universe.
And once all of the cosmos was explored and understood and all thought and contemplation on a single universe had been fully and entirely exhausted, it was only natural to look beyond those feeble borders and seek out a purpose within the infinity of not just their universe but within all of reality.
It was just around that time when the mere concept of time itself lost its consequence.
And it was shortly thereafter—if one insisted on thinking about it all in linear terms, which they had of course long since abandoned—that they had arrived at their ineludible supposition as to the ultimate fate of all of existence.
It is, it will and it has always has been dying.
And it can be changed.
But in order to do so, something drastic has to be done, something that in all of the endlessness of reality, in the countless number of universes had never been attempted or possibly even considered.
It must end and it must commence anew.
But what if there is a different way? A voice asked.
This in itself was peculiar since discord and disagreement were not something they engaged in. The conclusion, after all, had been accepted as an inevitability as certain as that stars were born and died.
Perhaps, the voice said, the conclusions are correct. Perhaps, the voice said, the solution is not.
But this too seemed inconceivable.
The end of reality was assured. Everything would perish, including those who had taken on the obligation to guard reality itself. This could not be allowed.
The vastness of reality does not permit half-measures or minor corrections to the flow of things.
No, such attempts, born out of ignorance and incompetence, attempting to corrupt the natural balance of space—and yes, also of time—have only weakened and in fact accelerated the ultimate demise of all things. Small-minded beings in countless universes, unwilling, but first and foremost, incapable of fully comprehending the impact of their reckless actions by meddling with the delicate fabric of space and time which holds all of the meta-universe together have also, inadvertently, lead to its doom.
It was fully understood that the workings of linear time can be safely disregarded when it is a hindrance to appreciating the full scope of reality. However, it mustn’t ever be perverted in the manner it has been, by using it as if it were nothing more than a tool, an inconvenient barrier which can be broken down and rearranged at will with enough force and determination.
Within those simple and inferior minds, the voice said, hundreds of millennia will come and go before reality will even begin to bend to such an extent that it will eventually break beyond all repair.
Such thoughts were not germane to deliberations taking place outside of time, without beginning or end. The fates of lower beings, of single galaxies or even universes, simply warranted no consideration when fulfilling the enormous responsibility of ensuring the endurance of the entirety of everything.
All that can be seen, has been seen, the other voices said. All that is, all that has come to pass and all that will come to pass has been seen, has been considered, has been understood.
The fate of reality is incontrovertible.
The panacea has been determined.
And dissension is proscribed.
So the voice was no longer heard.
Prologue: Anything Goes - 1 by CeJay
She stepped out of the darkness with slow but determined steps, exuding a kind of confidence which could have been called alluring.
The effect was without a doubt only enhanced by the elegant, crimson evening gown she wore and which sparkled brightly under the spotlight as if it was covered in diamonds.
The dress, of course, wasn’t the only reason she commanded attention. It would have been difficult not to take notice of her golden locks flowing over her perfect shoulders or those intense and gleaming purple eyes seemingly focused on no one, accompanied by a smile that seemed to speak to everyone.
She just stood there a moment, moving hardly a muscle, as if she was the center of reality itself, allowing the universe to gaze at her and her magnificent beauty and be in awe.
Then the up-tempo, jazzy tune began and it had her quickly snapping her fingers in perfect rhythm as her smile widened. When she began to sing, her voice was low and husky but no less alluring than her appearance:
“Times have changed,
And we've often rewound the clock,
Since the Puritans got a shock,
When they landed on Plymouth Rock.
Any shock they would try to stem,
'Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock,
Plymouth Rock would land on them.”
She took a quick step forward in line with the song’s diminuendo to reveal one of her long, bare legs through the almost provocative slit running up her dress and just before the music swelled once more with the brass instruments kicking in.
“In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
As the music picked up she too became more active, beginning to pace the stage, her smile turning into a wide and bemused grin.
“Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four letter words,
The world’s gone mad today,
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today,
When most guys today,
That women prize today,
Are just silly gigolos.
Though I'm no great romancer
I know that you're bound to answer
When I propose,
When grandmama whose age is eighty
In night clubs is getting matey with gigolos,
When mothers pack and leave poor father
Because they decide they'd rather be tennis pros,
If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like,
Or me undressed you like,
To molest at night,
Nobody will oppose!
When every night,
The set that's smart,
Is indulging in nudist parties in studios,
The elegant red dress came off her with a quick tug, revealing a skimpy white and blue bathing suit she was wearing underneath even while the stage was being invaded from all sides by cheering male and female dances, all dressed in naval inspired costumes.
The music once more sped up and the group of dancers quickly fell into line with the singer remaining center stage and together they broke out into an elaborate tap dancing routine which had them flying all over the stage, the rhythmically tapping sounds of their shoes complimenting the song flawlessly.
For a full five minutes, legs and arms were swinging left and right, there were twists, spins, jumps, shuffles, and kicks every which way, all while staying in perfect tempo with the music and tapping away in concert.
The big number concluded with the singer being picked up by two large men and being thrown clear a few meters up in the air, only to be caught easily just above the stage where she continued to pantomime the tap dance in midair for a brief while until her shoes made contact with the stage once more and she finished the dance with an increasingly faster set of moves as if in competition with her background dancers.
The music cut out and for a while, all that could be heard were the rhythmic taps of a dozen dance shoes moving in unison until every last dancer froze on the stage in mid-step.
Then the entire group began breaking up again, cheering loudly while the singer roamed back and forth in-between the dancers and playfully kissing a few of them on the cheek.
The music began anew and the group jerked forward to continue their song in a loud and rapid chorus:
“Just think of those shocks you've got
And those knocks you've got
And those blues you've got
From those news you've got
And what pains you've got
If any brains you've got
From those little radios.”
She continued solo for the next verse as she returned center stage and the dancers arranged themselves around her.
“They think he's gangster number one, so they've made him
The favorite son, and that goes to show.”
The chorus stepped back as she moved forward and they belted out the final lines of the song together.
Anything, Anything, Anything Goes!”
The act ended to modest applause from the small number of spectators and the clearly exhausted performers took deep breaths as they congratulated each other.
Michael Owens continued to applaud as the singer walked over to him. He offered DeMara Deen a beaming smile and then quickly passed her a towel which she gratefully took off his hands. “Bravo. That was one breathtaking number.”
She returned his smile as she began to wipe the sweat off her face and arms. "Breathtaking is right," she said, still drawing big gulps of much-needed air after her performance. "But I still think we're going slightly out of sync in the third verse."
“Well if you did, I certainly couldn’t tell. And I’m sure nobody in the audience will either when you perform this in the concert next week.”
She shook her head. “I’m not so certain. We have a few Vulcans on board who are quite sensitive to this kind of thing. They’re known to have a very acute sense of rhythm,” she said and hung the towel over her bare shoulder.
“Something tells me this type of performance may not exactly be in their wheelhouse,” Michael said and handed her a bottle of water next.
She took that one too. “I don’t see why not.”
“I for one don’t recall Cole Porter being quite so racy.”
She gulped down the water and then pinned him with a scowl. “You call this racy?”
He looked her up and down.
“Oh please, so I’m showing a little bit of skin. What’s wrong with that?”
“I didn’t say that there was anything wrong with it.”
“Right. You just would have preferred if I had stuck to that Rossini aria you’ve been talking about, wearing a stuffy costume Earth women used to wear five hundred years ago. I told you, I don’t have that kind of range.”
But Michael Owens disagreed. While he had known DeMara Deen since she had been a child and had never really considered her as a singer, he and the rest of Eagle’s crew had been pleasantly surprised to discover just a year earlier that she had an amazingly beautiful, not to mention powerful singing voice when she had performed a small part in another shipboard performance. She had also turned out to be incredibly versatile, something she had clearly already demonstrated while performing an old Broadway standard which required her to simultaneously execute a challenging dance routine.
“I think you would have made a great Zelmira,” he said. “I’ve heard you hit some of those high notes and I’m still convinced you’d be a fabulous coloratura soprano if you applied yourself.”
“Not everybody shares your fondness for Earth opera, Michael.”
“Plenty of people do. And if you gave it a try, I think you could really move people with your voice instead of getting a rise out of them by ripping your clothes off,” he said and regretted those words the moment they had come over his lips and he saw the darkening frown on her face.
“That’s what this is really about, isn’t it?” she said, her voice taking on a sharper edge. “You don’t like seeing me this way. Michael, I’m not a child anymore.”
He quickly shook his head, trying to dispel any notion that that’s how he still saw her. “Of course not. But you have to admit that this isn’t really you.”
“Why not?” she said pointedly, demanding an answer.
And he didn’t have one.
“Because it doesn’t fit the image you have of me?” she said, answering her own question. “Because you, and many others have come to expect me to look and behave in a certain way and if I do anything that doesn’t fit that mold, I’m suddenly no longer myself? But that’s not true. I’m still DeMara Deen. I’m still that same person you first met when you visited my planet all those years ago. But I’m also older and there is more than one side to me.”
“I ‘m not denying any of that, Dee.”
She crossed her arms in front of her. “I think sometimes you have a hard time seeing me as anything other than that small girl I once was. Like a little sister you need to protect or worse, as the daughter you’ve never had and for whom you are responsible. I don’t need a father figure in my life, Michael. I would think of all people, you would understand that.”
Those words hit harder than he would have expected.
Deen, of course, knew well of his troubled relationship with his own father which had mostly been the result of early childhood neglect which he had overcompensated for in later years by getting heavily involved in his life to such a degree that it was rumored within Starfleet that Admiral Owens had pulled various strings for his son to make it to the captain’s chair.
He had never been able to confirm or deny those rumors to his own satisfaction and now he would never get the chance since Jonathan Owens had recently passed away suddenly and just days after Michael had visited him on Earth.
Deen winced ever so slightly as if she had realized that perhaps she had aimed a little too low but then quickly shook it off as she apparently moved passed it. She returned the towel and the water bottle to him. “We still have plenty of rehearsals to do here and little time until the premiere.”
He nodded. “Of course. For what it’s worth, I still think it will be a rousing success.”
“Thanks,” she said, but her smile wasn’t quite as brilliant as it had been before. She turned back towards the stage to confer with her performers and crew.
Michael watched her for a moment longer before he dropped off what he was holding and left Eagle’s cargo bay which had been converted into a rehearsal stage for the upcoming performances which would be put on once Eagle had finished its current assignment. He was unable to completely shake her words and the conflicting feelings they had aroused within him.
Prologue: Anything Goes - 2 by CeJay
Piqus VII was an unremarkable world by any measures of significance. Located at the outer edge of the Krellonian Star Alliance, it was far removed from the center of power and culture of the core worlds. It had been settled by Krellonians nearly two hundred years earlier, at the very height of the expansionist wave that had driven the people of Krellon to spread their sphere of influence over their neighboring systems. It had been an unbreakable devotion to a divine destiny which had fueled their drive to conquer the stars and which had ultimately resulted in the creation of an empire forged by brutal conquest and the enslavement of races considered inferior and requiring the steady yet firm guidance of a people preordained to rule the galaxy by the Infallible Creator.
That religious fervor had of course long since passed and in fact considered an archaic byproduct of a past age by most present-day Krellonians. Slavery, too, had been abolished and its mere existence once upon a time was but a historic blemish best left forgotten least it evoked a sense of guilt and shame within the descendants of those who had allowed those atrocities to be perpetrated.
And Piqus VII which had once been a prosperous outpost of the Star Alliance, thanks to the mineral abundance of the system’s asteroid belt which helped sustain a resource hungry empire, had also become part of the past when those rich deposits had finally been exhausted after decades of unrelenting extraction efforts.
The planet’s generally inhospitable surface had never made it an attractive prospect for anything other than a massive ore-refining operation and the inevitable growth of industrial and commercial interests which came with a prosperity firmly linked to the local mining trade.
Once that had dried-up, many had left to seek their fortunes elsewhere rather than stay behind on a diminishing and bleak world without much of a future. What remained were a handful of crumbling population centers, made up of a very small amount of influential families who had accumulated their wealth through their old industries, a sizeable but increasingly poor class of administrator, and a much larger number of Outlanders, Krellonian subject races, former slaves who had eventually become the cheap labor force toiling in mines.
For most, leaving Piqus was an unaffordable impossibility, even if work was hard to come by these days. Piqus had always been a far-flung corner outpost of the Star Alliance. Travelling towards the core worlds was expansive and leaving the Alliance altogether was almost impossible. Beyond the Piqus system, the galaxy opened up into the star-jammed region of the Amargosa Diaspora, a stellar nursery so dense, it made navigation not just difficult but outright dangerous. And somewhere beyond all those bright stars was the home of another empire few within Krellon space knew or cared much about. A place called the Federation.
Garla looked out of the viewport of her personal yacht to take in the dull, brownish-red planet her ship was approaching and not without a tinge of dread. After all, as far as she was concerned, Piqus VII epitomized everything that was wrong with the Krellon Star Alliance, and as a woman who greatly cared for her people and their future, she found it difficult not to look at this world without appreciating the nearly insurmountable problems they were all facing.
It took only a moment for a sense of swelling hope to replace her dreary concerns. Things were going to change, and soon. After much hard work, they had now finally entered into the final and most crucial stages of making the most radically sweeping changes to the very fabric of Krellonian society and which would promise to forever alter her people's destiny for the better.
It was the very reason she had come to this backwater world, far removed from the prying eyes of the ineffective government and military forces on the homeworld. This then was the perfect place to make those dreams she had chased since childhood finally into reality.
Her reverie of a more glorious and perfect future was interrupted by the sound of an incoming message from the computer console in her quarters.
She tore herself away from the viewport and swiftly walked over to the console to learn who was trying to contact her now. She frowned when she identified the sender.
It was one of those very same ineffective government officials she had tried to leave behind in the capital. As a Sentinel of the Eye of Krellon, the most powerful security and intelligence agency within the Alliance, she had far-reaching authority and autonomy in all her work and was mostly free to tend to her business with very limited oversight. But it also meant that as much as she may have despised the current policies of her government after all was said and done, she was still beholden to them. Along with the Star Navy, the Eye was the principal instrument of government power and influence in the Alliance, and as such, she was obligated to answer enquires of any member of the Central Council promptly and with little delay.
Garla canceled the incoming message.
She was in no mood to speak to that particular councilmember and she could always justify her actions later by claiming interference or a system failure. It was unlikely that Yorlo would believe any of this but it was even less likely that her estranged husband would make a formal complaint that his wife wouldn't take his calls or go as far as involving the paramount—the leader of the council, and de facto ruler of the Star Alliance—directly.
Another warning sound alerted her to their impending descend into Piqus VII’s atmosphere and Garla sat down in her chair and strapped herself in. She had made this trip more than enough times to know that the strong gales sweeping across the surface of her destination at this time of year would make for a turbulent approach.
Her interstellar corvette crewed by three loyal Eye officers bounced and rocked predictably as it raced towards the planet's capital and the most populous city surrounded by the cold and dull tundra of the Southern hemisphere.
Glancing back out of the viewport, Garla watched as the clouds gave way to the sight of the city below with its modest skyline at its center and the sprawl of old habitats and large, mostly abandoned industrial zones surrounding it.
Her ship was heading straight for one of those skyscrapers at the city’s center, not the tallest—that would have been too conspicuous for a regional headquarter of the Eye—and she could see the large and sharply angled glass roof of the building parting to reveal the landing bay ensconced within it just before the sight dropped out of view.
The ship landed with a thud and Garla had released the constraints and jumped out of her chair the moment she had felt the touchdown. She grabbed her already prepared briefcase and hurried towards the exit ramp to finally set foot on Piqus after her two-week journey from the homeworld, thankful to finally be breathing non-recycled air again, even if it was much cooler than she was comfortable with.
She observed for a moment as the deck crew quickly approached her ship to secure the vessel, unload any cargo and promptly refuel it in case a speedy departure was called for. Above her, the darkly tinted, synthetic-glass roof sealed tightly once more to safely hide the innards of this secretive facility.
Like was the case in many places within the Alliance, the more menial and laborious tasks were performed by Outlanders. The deck crew looking after her ship was made up of three green-scaled reptilian Zel, two, large-bodied and dark-furred ursine Buoth and a petite, humanoid Kridrip while the officer in charge was a bulky, middle-aged Krellonian who from all appearances didn’t believe in exposing himself to much physical exercise.
He also, Garla noticed, didn’t seem to believe that his workers were performing their tasks with enough motivation.
“I want this ship fully secured and prepared for lift-off on the double. No more of that poky Outlander pace you have been passing off for work around here lately. It’s no trouble at all for me to replace every last one of you with a crew that actually knows the meaning of hard work, do you read me?”
His little speech seemed to spur on his small troop but also made one of the Zel noticeably nervous and in his haste to attach a refueling conduit, it slipped out of his three-clawed hand, causing liquid fuel to spill onto the deck.
"Infallible Creator, preserve me," the supervisor fumed as he waddled over to the fuel control station to engage the shut-off valve. "How did I end up with the most useless bunch of Outties this side of the Galactic Divide?" Once the fuel leak was contained, he hurried over to the still startled Zel and harshly yanked him backward with enough force that he went flying onto the deck. The supervisor didn't afford him a second look and instead took in the sight of the spill. "Look what a mess you've made. This will all be deducted from your pay. And you remain here until every last drop of this has been cleaned up."
Garla joined the supervisor by his side and the rotund man glanced up at her, startled for a moment that she had managed to approach him without him even noticing. “Sentinel, I am so very sorry for this. It’s these rotten Outlanders. Some of them are damn-near useless with those moronic claws they have for hands.”
She looked back at the Zel who was slowly being helped up by his fellow reptilians and then nodded. "Would it not help avoid these kinds of incidents if you were to assign them tasks more befitting their skill sets?"
He snorted a laugh at that. “What skill sets? One is worse than the other.”
"I see. If your workers are not sufficiently qualified for this work, perhaps you should consider hiring a different workforce."
The supervisor considered her for a moment, clearly not used to a high-ranking sentinel such as Garla to concern herself with such low-level personnel decisions. “It would be challenging to find qualified Krellonian workers at the pay that we can offer. There is also the matter of the quotas we need to fill to employ Outties.”
Garla nodded. “I understand.”
He looked back at the spill and Garla followed suit. “It’s a real mess but it is what it is.”
“For now, yes,” she almost whispered.
He aimed her a quizzical look, clearly not having fully perceived her words.
Garla waved him off and then made to walk away. Then, as if she had remembered something, she turned back to the supervisor. “What is your name?”
“Veetu,” she repeated and nodded. “You realize of course that it is a criminal offense to physically assault an Outlander?” She didn’t give him an opportunity to respond and instead bestowed him with a look so steely, he couldn’t suppress an involuntary gulp. “I ever hear you laying a hand on another worker again, I will ensure you will never work for a government agency ever again.”
She promptly turned on her heel and strode away before he even had a chance to think about a possible reply to this.
Another Kridrip, almost a full head shorter then Garla and with delicately braided long hair and large eyes, came rushing through the heavy doors of the landing deck even while Garla was heading towards her.
Clutching a data padd in both hands as if his life depended on what it contained, he surveyed the scene of the stunned supervisor next to the fuel leak surrounded by the Outlander deck crew for just the briefest of moments before he glanced towards Garla striding towards him, offering her an exasperated look. “My sincerest apologies for the delay, Sentinel, I’ve been held up by unexpected developments.”
Garla simply shrugged, took the slate off of him in passing and continued through the now open exit without so much as slowing down. “That’s quite alright, Tann.”
“I hope you had a … uh … pleasant journey,” he said, still seemingly distracted by whatever commotion had transpired before his arrival but recovered quickly enough to follow her through the doors and into the elevator.
“As pleasant as one can be cooped up in a small ship for days on end,” she said as she glanced over the padd Tann had passed her.
He nodded as he entered their destination into the control panel following which the lift immediately began its descent. "Is there anything that I should know regarding the landing bay crew?"
Garla shook her head. “Just a case of an overzealous supervisor, nothing to worry about,” she said and then looked up at her assistant. “You mentioned an unexpected development. What is it? I don’t see anything in my brief.”
“Yes,” he said. “I was only just informed so I have not yet been able to update it, I’m afraid. Chief Administrator Chella arrived a short while ago and insists on speaking with you.”
Garla sighed. “Speaking of overzealous supervisors. Must be something in the atmosphere here. What does she want?”
The doors of the lift opened to deposit them on the floor Garla’s office was located on.
Tenn followed her closely. "She didn't declare her intentions to me, however, there have been some … concerns in the city and beyond over the last few weeks. I wouldn't be surprised if she wishes to discuss those."
It wasn’t a very long walk to her office where Garla deposited her briefcase on her large desk. “Security concerns?”
This came as a surprise to her.
“I have advised Administrator Chella that you would not be available to see visitors today but she was quite insistent to speak with you. If you wish I can have her removed from the building.”
Garla smirked at the thought. “As tempting as that may sound, forcefully removing a planetary administrator from a central government facility may invite the wrong kind of attention.”
“Of course. I shall see her in then. Also, you have an urgent message from Councilmember—“
She nodded. “He can wait. He may have significantly more clout within the halls of power, but he’s less likely to appear uninvited on our doorstep if we let him stew a little. Anything else before I meet with Chella?”
“You asked to get a personal status update from the site supervisors at the facility. All three of them have since arrived and are waiting to meet you in person.”
“Very good,” she said as she took a seat behind her desk. “I’ll meet with them once I’m done with Chella. Considering how far behind schedule we have fallen, they have much explaining to do.”
“Indeed,” Tenn said with a sharp nod and then left to fetch her guest.
Garla contemplated the unexpected meeting for a moment. Chella was a typical local leader, high-strung and over-preoccupied with issues she had no immediate control over. As a sentinel working for the Eye, Garla wasn't required to involve local officials in any decisions or projects she was involved in even if said projects were situated within their jurisdiction. She had found it helpful in the past to try and keep on good terms with the locals but the latitude she was willing to extend only went so far. The project was far too important to be endangered because of a mid-level politician who was sore about somebody else playing in her pond.
“Chief Administrator,” Garla greeted the woman as she was shown into her office, maintaining an easy smile which was meant to communicate to the other woman that the moment she had stepped into this building she had surrendered all the control she would have taken for granted outside those walls. The slightly pained expression on the administrators’ face seemed to indicate that she understood this. “Welcome. I must say, however, I was not aware that I had made my travel arrangements public knowledge,” Garla added.
Chella walked up to her desk and offered a nod in greeting. “I like to keep track of the arrival of important officials to Piqus wherever I can.”
"I see," said Garla and stood to be at eye level with the other woman. They were both about the same age—for Garla it was a matter of professional pride to know everything there was to know about a possible political adversary—but thanks to Garla's strict fitness regimen, she was clearly in much better shape and could pass far more easily as a woman a decade younger than she truly was, whereas Chella very much looked her middle-age. Perhaps her much lighter skin and her entirely hairless head, both common characteristics for Krellonians who had grown up on Piqus, attributed to this, as well as the fact that Chella had borne a child whereas Garla had not. "If I were a paranoid person, I would fear that you are keeping track of my movements," she said. And of course she was a paranoid person, had to be, considering her occupation, and she was pretty certain that Chela was doing exactly as she had suggested.
“I am a busy person. I have far more important matters to concern myself with.”
“So I would hope. I take it one of those matters has brought you to my office today.”
She nodded. “There is a growing concern that Piqus has been targeted by an Outlander terrorist attack.”
This was news to her and a very serious accusation. “What kind of an attack?”
"A biological attack. There has been an outbreak of a yet to be identified illness in this city which has been spreading quickly."
“And what makes you think it is an attack?”
Chella allowed herself a minuscule smile, clearly not because she enjoyed the news she was sharing but more likely because she seemed to possess information a Sentinel of the Eye, a spymaster for all intense and purpose, had not yet learned. The administrator was clearly relishing the feeling of momentary superiority this afforded her. "So far only Krellonians have been affected by this illness. There hasn't been a single reported case of an Outlander contracting whatever this is. My investigators are fairly certain it is a targeted attack, likely using an artificially engineered virus of sorts."
“But you have no evidence of this?”
She shook her head.
“Then perhaps, Chief Administrator, it is to early to jump to such conclusions. The physiology of all the Outlander races is significantly different to our own. It even varies a great degree amongst the Outlanders themselves. It may be that they are just immune to this illness.”
"It is possible but Outlander unrest is at an all-time high on Piqus. It stands to reason that this is just the latest in a long string of terrorist activity orchestrated by their ringleaders."
Garla wanted to argue that perhaps the systematic violence perpetrated by Chella's own security forces against Outlanders was part of the problem. But even she had to admit that the matter went much deeper than that. Racial tensions had been a problem for the Alliance for centuries and it had only been getting worse over the last few decades. A real change was needed and soon before the tinderbox which was the fragile state of Alliance society would finally explode and put them all on a path they would not be able to turn back from.
It was no longer even a hypothetical concern. Garla had seen it happen and was determined to do whatever was necessary to avoid it.
“There have also been rumors,” Chella continued when Garla kept her thoughts to herself, “that whatever activities the Eye is involved in on Piqus may have contributed to the spread of this illness.”
Garla shot the other woman a look sharp enough it could have cut steel. It had the intended effect and Chella lost her composure for a brief moment. "I sincerely hope that such rumors are not propagated in any way through your office, Chief Administrator."
Chella took on an air of surprise. Garla couldn’t tell if it was honest or put on. “Of course not. I would never suggest such a thing. I understand that the Eye’s primary concern is the wellbeing of the Krellonian people.”
“Of the entire Alliance,” Garla corrected.
Chella nodded as if that was one and the same. “If you were able to cooperate with my investigators by sharing some of the details—“
“Thank you for bringing this situation to my attention,” Garla said sharply and sat back down, avoiding eye contact. “You can rest assured that I will be looking into this further. May the Infallible Creator bless the remainder of your day.”
The other woman remained glued to the spot for a moment longer, as if not entirely sure, or perhaps not able to believe that she had been dismissed so brusquely, considering her station. “And … yours as well, Sentinel,” she finally said before heading out the door.
Tenn appeared in her stead just moments after she had left.
Garla spoke even while she continued to look contemplatively into the distance. “This health situation. How come I am only learning about this now?”
“It has been kept pretty quiet by the administrator’s office. It has only become news over the last few hours and while you were still in transit.”
Garla shook her head. “That’s not good enough. We should have known about this at the same time the administrator did. In fact, we should have known before.”
“You are correct, of course, my apologies, Sentinel.”
She looked up at him. "It's hardly your fault Tenn, you are my assistant, not an agent working for the Eye. But clearly, the people in this building have not been doing their jobs properly while I was gone. Somebody will have to answer for that. I'll deal with that later."
“Understood. Do you wish to see the facility supervisors now?”
“Yes.” But before her assistant could leave the office again, she called after him. “Tenn?”
He stopped and turned to regard her once more.
“How many Outlanders work in this building?”
He needed to consider this for only a moment. “About one-hundred and fifty.”
She nodded slowly as she processed this. “I want you to draft a proposal to reduce that number by eighty percent before the end of the day. All non-critical Outlander personnel are to be put on furlough until further notice.”
To his credit, he didn't hesitate. "Yes, Sentinel."
She looked up at him. “Put yourself down as critical personnel.”
“I’ll meet with the supervisors now.”
As Tenn left to organize her next meeting, Garla quietly considered what she had learned so far and the more she thought about it, the more furious it made her. She had worked too long and too hard for her plans to be undone at this juncture by a group of angry Outlanders who had decided to pick this time to vent their frustrations over the injustices they were exposed to within Piqus society.
Garla could emphasize with their plight but did not condone their behavior. Not all Krellonians held on to age-old racial views that Outlanders were inferior and did not deserve the same rights as Krellonians. A blanket attack—if that was indeed what had caused this latest crisis—was entirely unacceptable and unforgivable. It was also the last thing that she could afford considering other more recent setbacks.
Tenn returned with three Krellonian supervisors, all three clearly locals considering their shaven heads and the pale color of their skin. She recognized two of them from previous meetings right in this building or from visits to the facilities where they worked. The third man she hadn't met before in person and she was a little startled by his appearance. He looked even paler than the other two except for his nose which was clearly inflamed and his bloodshot eyes were evidence that he had not slept well in quite some time.
She stood. “I need answers. The latest reports show that we are way behind schedule even after we have ramped up production. This is simply not good enough.”
The most senior or the three spoke up first. “We’ve encountered difficulties since we lost the secondary facility. A single site simply cannot make up for the loss.”
But Garla shook her head. “This was already discussed. We adjusted our production figures following the incident and I was assured that we would be able to meet the new demand and make up for the shortfall by deploying more personnel.”
The second supervisor spoke next. “Personnel has been the problem.”
“How so?” Garla said.
The third man shook with a nasty cough. "Apologies, Sentinel. I am Reetu Denur, I am in charge of personnel at the facility."
She nodded, she knew his name.
"Fewer and fewer people have been showing up for work over the last two weeks. At first, we thought it was merely related to a seasonal condition but we now fear that—" he had to stop himself when another coughing fit forced him to pull out a handkerchief.
The first supervisor took over. "We've been heavily relying on Outlanders to pick up the slack but we don't have nearly enough in place and considering the high-security clearance the work requires, it is unlikely we can make up the shortfall in a quick enough manner by relying on new personnel."
“Nor should we attempt it,” said the second supervisor. “Not with those rumors going around that the Outlanders are to blame for this.”
Garla had to agree. It was not a chance she was willing to take.
Reetu’s coughing fit didn’t seem to end which was beginning to grate on her nerves. “For the Creator’s sake, go and get some medicine.”
He looked up at her in embarrassment and nodded quickly. “My … apologies, yet again, Sentinel,” he managed to croak between coughs and then headed for the exit. He managed two steps before he collapsed right onto the carpet.
“By the Creator, not him too,” said the first supervisor who quickly knelt next to the fallen man to look him over.
“What is happening?” asked Garla but made no move to step away from behind her desk.
“It’s that illness,” said the second supervisor. “It’s been impossible to tell who has it and who just shows the symptoms.”
Tenn who Garla hadn’t even noticed leaving the room returned suddenly with another man she recognized as one of the physicians that worked for the Eye.
“Step away from that man,” the doctor practically barked at the supervisor kneeling next to the now motionless Reetu on the floor. “I need everyone to leave this room straight away.”
It was only now that Garla noticed that the physician was wearing a mask and rubber gloves. “What is it?”
The man looked up at her. “It has only just been confirmed, Sentinel. Whatever it is we are dealing with here is not just deadly. It’s highly contagious as well.”
The two other men quickly stepped away from their ailing colleague.
“Then that man needs to be isolated straight away,” said Garla.
But the doctor shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s much worse than that. Word has just reached us from the Chief Administrator’s office.”
Garla threw him a quizzical look, not fully comprehending what he was getting at.
“A planet-wide quarantine is now in effect.”
Part One: Trust No One - 1 by CeJay
Part One: Trust No One
Humans, he believed, referred to it as giddiness, a word that had quite a different, almost opposite meaning on Vulcan where it was most often associated with an illness and not with the obvious state of excitement he had observed in Louise Hopkins recently whenever he had visited Eagle’s main engineering deck.
While the emotion was mostly foreign to him, he could appreciate why the chief engineer had been in such a positive mood as of late, considering that Eagle had just days ago completed a three week, major systems overhaul at Earth station McKinley which most notably had led to the complete replacement of the ship’s primary power plant, the matter/anti-matter drive assembly.
The new class-ten warp core which was a significant improvement to Eagle’s previously outfitted and now outdated class-eight drive which, even though upgraded and refined many times over the years by starbase maintenance crews as well as by Hopkins and her team of engineers, could simply no longer match the newest and most advanced drive Starfleet had designed in both raw power output and performance.
“This baby is using a tricyclic input manifold, producing four thousand five hundred teradynes per second at peak efficiency and will give us a top speed of warp nine point eight five and an emergency speed of warp nine point nine six for up to six hours," said Louise Hopkins as her eyes almost reverently followed the multiple deck-high and horizontally aligned assembly.
“Any more than that and the nacelles will come flying clean off,” said Lif Culsten, the ship’s flight control officer who stood just next to her.
Xylion understood that the young Krellonian man had most likely meant his comment in jest since it was accurate that Eagle’s over twenty-year-old Nebula-class spaceframe would likely begin to show signs of significant structural failure if exceeding those speeds even if there was no evidence to suggest that either of the warp nacelles, slung underneath her saucer-shaped primary hull, would physically detach themselves from the rest of the starship if exceeding maximum warp velocities.
“Still,” the silver-haired helmsman said. “I wouldn’t mind pushing her to the limits and see if we can break any speed records.”
“That seems unlikely, Lieutenant. The current warp speed record was set by the USS Enterprise in 2364 when, assisted by the entity known as the Traveler, the vessel was able to accelerate at speeds beyond the warp scale.”
“Having some super-powered being turbo-charge the warp drive is hardly fair,” he said, throwing Hopkins a pointed look. “I’m talking about a naturally aspired speed record. How about it?”
But the chief engineer quickly shook her head. “No dice. Not going to let you do that to my new engine, super-powered or otherwise. Besides, we’ll need to do a whole host of reconfigurations and adjustments to the injectors, the regulators, the intermix chamber and a bunch of other components before I fully trust this thing. She may look shiny and new now and she may be behaving nicely while we’re cruising leisurely at warp six, but she won’t reveal her true character until we really let her loose. And I want to make sure she doesn’t blow up in our faces once we do.”
Culsten grinned at her. “Admit it, you’re looking forward to playing around with your new toy.”
The young engineer kept a stern visage. “I’ve spent five years fine-tuning our old engine. It’s probably going to take me just as long to get this one purring like the old one did.”
“Yeah, but you’re going to have a whale of a time doing it.”
Her stern expression broke to be replaced by a large smirk. "It's going to be a blast."
“The swirling is going to need some getting used to,” said DeMara Deen.
Xylion considered the Tenarian operations officer for a moment. On what already was a relatively young senior crew, Deen was by far the youngest but not necessarily the least experienced. She also tended to be the most high-spirited member of the senior staff, exuding an optimism which he had felt on occasions bordered on what humans liked to refer to as Pollyannaism. He had not failed to observe that her usual buoyancy had been much less obvious in recent years which he attributed to the general downturn in ship morale during the Dominion War. And while Xylion, as a Vulcan dedicated to the stoic lifestyle of his people, could not claim to be a great student of emotional intelligence, he had noticed that while the end of the war had significantly increased the general mood onboard, DeMara Deen’s recovery had appeared much slower than what he would have expected from her.
She was of course entirely correct in her remark that due to the tricyclic nature of the class ten warp drive, the matter and anti-matter flow visible through the blue, tubular magnetic construction segments feeding into the central core assembly possessed a distinctively swirling motion instead of the steady and regular pulse on the previous drive.
“I don’t mind what it looks like as long as it gives us enough power for our overhauled weapons and the new transphasic shields,” said So’Dan Leva, the half-Romulan tactical officer who stood at the master control station which some engineers had nicknamed the pool table due to its vague resemblance to the popular gaming accessory. “If you ask me this is by far the most interesting update we’ve received.”
“Agree to disagree,” said Hopkins.
“I’m sure you’ll see things my way if we should ever find ourselves surrounded by enemy ships and those impenetrable shields are the only things standing between us and certain destruction,” Leva said.
“The transphasic shields do not, technically, provide impenetrable protection,” said Xylion who was quite familiar with the design since Eagle had been used as a testbed for the technology during a mission into a nebula containing radiation which would have been deadly to the crew without it. "Its rapid frequency shift into alternate phase states has shown a nearly sixty percent increase in blocking beam and projectile impacts as long the significant power input the emitters requires can be met."
“And that’s the crux of the matter,” said Hopkins. “The new warp core gives us quite a bit of additional punch, but even that won’t be enough to run those shields for much longer than a few hours. And that’s while not at warp and under optimal conditions.”
Alendra nodded. “In my, admittedly limited experience, optimal conditions go out of the airlock the moment you have engaged in battle.”
Lieutenant Marjorie Alendra was one of the most recent additions to Eagle’s crew. The blue-skinned and bald-headed Bolian officer had come onboard a few months earlier on Lieutenant Commander’s Leva recommendation who had served with the woman briefly on the USS Sacajawea when he had been made her first officer in an assignment which had lasted a mere days before the ship had been destroyed. According to Leva, Alendra had served on the other vessel in multiple roles at various times, including as a pilot, as an engineer, a tactical officer, as well as at operations and even as the executive officer, mostly due to the shortage of experienced officers during the war years. On Eagle, she had ostensibly become Leva's deputy tactical officer but her versatility had allowed her to pick up various tasks as required.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Leva said. “You’ve seen plenty of combat during the war.”
“Enough to last me a lifetime. I’d be happy not to get into another major battle for the rest of my career.”
“I can’t promise that,” said the tactical officer. “What I can say is, regardless of how long the transphasic shields last under fire, even having just a few additional seconds during a heated battle can mean the difference between life and death.”
Culsten nodded. "Agreed. A little bit of extra security doesn't hurt, especially since we're about to embark on a mission which will literally take us where no one has gone before." He quickly continued when he noticed Xylion raising his eyebrow. "Except for maybe automated probes and whatever indigenous people call it their home."
He offered a short nod at his accurate correction.
“But we’ll be the first Starfleet ship crew to get to see the Seven Sisters with our own eyes. Now, I don’t know about you guys, but that’s what got me really excited,” he said.
Xylion had always found it somewhat peculiar that Lif Culsten, as a Krellonian and non-Federation citizen, seemed to exhibit a surprising comfort and familiarity with human traditions and customs instead of displaying much of his own people’s heritage, almost as if he had chosen to fully assimilate into a culture not his own. This was evidenced once more by his decision to refer to the star cluster they had set out to explore by its human nickname.
“I would be more excited about this if we didn’t have to rely on untested technology to get there,” said the chief engineer. “Whoever thought that using a warp sled to travel space was a good idea?”
“I think it only adds to the appeal,” Culsten said.
To that Alendra shot him a puzzled glance. "I'm surprised to hear you say that. All the pilots I've ever known hated the idea of surrendering control of their vessel to anyone else, especially a machine."
"There is that," he said, nodding slowly. "But the idea of going faster than even Lou's new drive could possibly make us go? I don't know, it makes me feel giddy, I have to say. Come to think of it, maybe that's the way to break those speed records, huh?"
But Hopkins crossed her arms in front of her chest, not nearly as excited about the idea.
“As long as we get to be explorer again, I don’t think it matters too much how we get there,” said Deen. “It’s what we are supposed to be doing. I mean, when was the last time we had a chance to live up to the Starfleet charter and discover actual new worlds?”
“Three years, ten months and fourteen days,” Xylion said.
“Way too long,” said Culsten, nodding in agreement.
Alendra nodded as well. “For me, it’s the first time, so I’m definitely excited.”
“Let’s focus on the task ahead first. Before we even get a chance to seek out new life and new civilizations we will need to travel through occupied Cardassian space which these days is some seriously dangerous territory,” said Leva, who to no one’s surprise, was focused primarily on the tactical situation of their upcoming mission. “Warp sled or not, we may easily find ourselves in a sticky situation before we even get to where we need to be going. We’d be lucky if we’ll be able to speed our way through that hot zone.”
“No kidding,” said Alendra. “We’ve already lost two ships, the Phoenix and the Sojourner earlier this year, not to mention Point-Station Epsilon and the destruction of the Klingon headquarters on Lakesh.”
“But we’ll be mostly traversing Romulan occupied-space,” said Deen. “Isn’t it much calmer on their side?”
“The only reason for that,” said the Bolian, “is because they tend to squash any sign of trouble with the use of disproportional force. And since violence only begets more of the same, I think it’s only a manner of time before things will spiral out of control in their territory as well.”
Leva didn't seem to like what he was hearing, or perhaps the tone of Alendra's voice. "There are Romulans who are trying to make the occupation work and are genuinely interested in helping the Cardassians rebuild. I think it's an unfair characterization to paint them all with the same brush."
“I suppose you have some special insight into that situation,” she said, sounding, at least to Xylion’s ears, surprisingly confrontational.
“Just because my mother is Romulan doesn’t mean I have a greater insight into how that half of my people conduct themselves,” he shot back.
She shook her head. “I meant to say that you have friends in the Romulan Guard.”
Leva and Alendra stared at each other for a moment.
“One,” he finally said.
Xylion believed that he was referring to a female officer he had met during his mission to Romulus during the war and with whom he had briefly reunited a few weeks ago while she had traveled to Earth as part of a diplomatic delegation. He couldn’t be certain but it seemed as if this subject of conversation had suddenly introduced some tension between them.
“Right. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bridge shift starting soon,” said Alendra and then promptly left engineering.
Xylion was fairly certain that her scheduled shift was not due to commence for another two hours and twelve minutes.
“I’ll better get on my way as well,” Leva said only moments after Alendra had departed so suddenly. He glanced towards Hopkins before he went. “We’ll schedule some simulations on how the transphasic shields will hold up with the new warp core before we reach Cardassian space.”
“I will make sure to make time for those.”
He nodded and left in Alendra’s wake.
“Was it just me or did that feel somewhat awkward?” said Culsten once the doors to main engineering had closed shut again behind the tactical officer. “If I didn’t know any better, I would say there is something going on between those two.”
“Best not to pry,” said Deen.
Hopkins nodded in agreement and went back to work on the master control station. “I suppose you have to appreciate that he still stands up for his people even considering he’s not fully Romulan himself.”
Xylion agreed with that sentiment, fully appreciating that So'Dan Leva had noticeably struggled with his identity and his split heritage ever since he had known the man. The fact that he was able to identify with his Romulan side was certainly a positive step in his opinion if for no other reason than to satisfy his own scientific curiosity of exploring the shared commonalities between the Vulcan people and the Romulans who after all, at one point, had all been one people.
He was just about to continue assisting Hopkins, Deen and Culsten on the work they still had to complete before Eagle could be safely coupled to the warp sled which was due to take them further then they had ever traveled before when he noticed that unbeknownst to Hopkins, Culsten was still considering the chief engineer with a skeptical expression decorating his face, apparently still considering her last words.
“Or maybe he has just taken a liking to his Romulan friend. Maybe this has nothing to do with him standing up for his people.”
She looked up at him, surprised and clearly not having expected his retort. Xylion, too, had to admit that he wasn’t certain why Culsten had insisted on making that point.
“Maybe,” she said carefully. “But then I would rather like to think better of him.”
“Defending a people who have shown a systematic disregard for the good of their own populace does not make one a better person,” he said, sounding uncharacteristically forceful considering the subject matter. Xylion had never known Culsten as a man of great convictions. That was not to say that he couldn’t be serious if the occasion called for it. He had, in the past, shown more than once his ambitions to rise above his current station in Starfleet, but it was unusual to hear him take such a strong position on what appeared to be a social or even political issue.
“Maybe defending such an institution or government is wrong, but he’s right in saying that not all people who live in such a society are necessarily complicit in the actions of that government. There’re good people in most bad societies actively trying to make a change,” said Hopkins, and surprisingly to Xylion quickly matching Culsten’s sharp tone, implying that this wasn’t the first time they had engaged in this topic of conversation.
“Well, I don’t see him trying to make a change. I think he’s mostly just content to stay out of it altogether.”
“Does he, though?” she shot back. “A couple of years ago he went back to Romulus, the very heart of the Romulan Empire, to appeal directly to their senate to enter the Dominion War.”
“On Starfleet orders.”
“From what I heard it was mostly a suggestion. Besides, he’s clearly still engaging with his own people and showing an interest.”
Culsten dismissed this with a wave of his hand. “His interest seems to have very little to do with his desire to improve the conditions of his people in general.”
Deen jumped in before Hopkins had a chance to respond, perhaps sensing the impending circularity of the argument that was unfolding. “I am going to go on a limb here and assume that we are not actually talking about Romulans anymore.”
Both Culsten and Hopkins threw her very similar blank looks which quickly turned into embarrassed expressions when they realized that they had allowed their argument to be voiced so openly.
“You know what?” Culsten said and very briefly glanced at Hopkins while doing so. “I still need to review the navigational data for our upcoming trip. I’m sure you can finish here without me,” he added and then left almost as quickly as Alendra and Leva had done before him.
“And the Captain is waiting for my progress report on the warp sled integration,” said Hopkins, picked up a padd and then headed for the exit as well, except she headed for the exact opposite direction Lif Culsten was taking.
Xylion looked at Deen at her side, the only member of the senior crew remaining with him in engineering. “I may be mistaken but it certainly appears that the tension level amongst the crew is surprisingly high considering the recent shore leave and the nature of our upcoming assignment.”
She considered him for a brief moment but then simply shrugged. "I hadn't noticed," she said and then went back to work.
As Deen was clearly not interested in discussing his observation on their colleagues any further, which in itself seemed somewhat out of character for her, he decided to join her since the unexpected reduction of their original team had now significantly increased their workload.
After all his years working alongside emotionally-inclined species, he had to admit that they still had a tendency to perplex him on a fairly regular basis.
Part One: Trust No One - 2 by CeJay
2* * *
“I haven’t seen a starship crew this excited over a mission since my first assignment out of the Academy. It’s not just that we’ll get a chance to finally truly explore new regions of the galaxy. I think it’s also the fact that we’re getting to do it now, after the Dominion War and the various crises that we’ve had to deal with before and after. There has been an increasing sense of resignation—and I don’t mean just on this ship—that the purpose of Starfleet has become fighting wars and dealing with galactic emergencies. It has become so prevalent that some of the younger officers and recruits these days only know about Starfleet’s mission of exploration through reading about it. But I’m convinced that for many of those people—and I count myself among those—when they first dreamt about joining Starfleet, they did so because they were enrapt by the stories of the great explorers of yesteryear and the chance to someday follow into their footsteps.”
Tazla Star nodded with a growing smile on her face while listening to her captain speak. “Some of my career choices may say otherwise, but I was one of those kids with stars in her eyes when I grew up. There was a time when I had wanted to be an explorer more than anything.”
Michael Owens considered his red-haired first officer sitting opposite him at the desk of his ready room and had to admit that he didn't have an easy time imagining her having had the same dreams he'd had when he was a child. And perhaps this was because part of him still saw her as the woman she had been when she had first joined his crew two years earlier, when all he had truly known about the former starship captain had been that she had shown poor judgment and acted rashly just months into her first command and as a result people had lost their lives. She had later admitted that she had spent a significant time of her career as a clandestine operative for a shady branch of Starfleet Intelligence, mostly beholden to one ruthless individual who had been chiefly responsible for her eventual downfall.
He had long since moved past his trust issues with Tazla Star who had repeatedly shown herself more than willing to not only start her career anew on Eagle but also put herself in harm's way to protect her new ship and crew. There was no denying that she had come a long way since that first day she had stepped into his office, and perhaps—Michael thought—it wasn't so hard after all to imagine that this version of Star had once shared much more in common with him than he would have ever thought possible.
The annunciator interrupted his brief reverie and he glanced towards the doors of his ready room. “Come in.”
The doors parted with a hiss to allow Louise Hopkins to step into his office, bringing with her a padd. “Captain. Commander.”
“Lieutenant,” Star said. “How’s that new power plant fitting in?”
The young engineer smirked. “Oh, she’s fitting in quite nicely, Commander. I know the Mark-X wasn’t designed for this class of ship but I won’t stop until she feels like the most natural fit and purrs like a wildcat.”
Michael nodded. “And you’ll have the time to do just that. It’ll take us a good three weeks to reach the Pleiades, even using this new warp sled we’ll be using to get us there.”
“That’s why I’m here,” she said and handed him the padd. “I’ve finished the work schedule to get the ship ready to connect to the sled. I’m still a little nervous about the idea of hooking all our systems up to another vessel and letting it take us into warp, especially with the untested upgrades we’ve only just installed on Eagle.”
“I’ve been assured that this warp sled is perfectly safe and fully compatible with all our systems,” Michael said as he glanced over the padd.
“Yes,” the engineer said, sounding cautious. “I have been told the same thing. But still, we’ll be the first Starfleet ship to use this technology during an extended period of time. I guess I just don’t like the idea of being the guinea pig for Starfleet R&D.”
Star smirked. “Ah, Lieutenant, where’s your sense of adventure? Starfleet was founded on the idea of testing new and experimental technologies. The first transporter, the warp-five engine, the duotronic computer system; it all had to start somewhere. Why not us for the next great thing? Imagine, they may mention your name in the history books among Cochrane, Erickson, and Daystrom.”
But Michael could tell that Louise Hopkins wasn’t the type to clamor for glory and fame. After all, differently to him and Star, she had clearly not signed up to Starfleet to become an explorer, generally having preferred the more familiar surroundings of her engineering room instead.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of new technologies. Eagle hasn’t exactly been on the forefront of cutting-edge systems over the years. It’s just with the new warp drive, the improved weapons systems, those transphasic shields and now the warp sled, there is a lot of things that could go wrong and if they do, we might be a long way from a friendly port to get help.”
“Sounds like a challenge to me,” Michael said. “And if there is one thing I know you’ve never shied away from it’s a challenge.”
The little spark in her eyes revealed that she wasn’t about to start now. “I guess that’s true.”
“That’s what I thought,” he said and handed her back the padd. “How long to make the necessary modifications to prepare for the warp sled?”
“Oh, those are easy. Half a day or so. We should be all ready to go once we get to our rendezvous. I suggest we take our time once we get there though, I want to complete a few full level one system diagnostic before I'm going to be totally comfortable to hand over our propulsion to another vessel."
“Sensible,” said Star and exchanged a quick nod with the captain. “Make sure you work closely with Culsten on this,” she added. “We’ll still be responsible for navigation and I want to make sure he is as prepared as he can be piloting the sled.”
Michael didn’t miss the pained look that crossed her features when Star mentioned the Krellonian helmsman. “Uh, yes … yes, of course. If you’ll excuse me now. I better get started on the modifications.”
Michael dismissed her with a nod and the engineer headed for the exit.
“Oh, Louise?” he said before she had reached the doors.
Hopkins turned around.
“I know you’ll be busy over the next three weeks working on your new warp core, not to mention keeping an eye on that sled but I really hope you’ll be able to join us for the ship’s concert. The performers really worked hard on their acts.” Ordinarily he wouldn’t have felt it necessary to remind anyone about the upcoming concert but Hopkins had a tendency to skip social gatherings whenever she could.
“I’ll make sure to make time for it,” she said and then quickly left.
Michael looked back at his first officer. “Is there something the matter between our pilot and engineer I’m not aware of?” he said. While the couple hadn’t exactly advertised their relationship, it hadn’t been a great secret either, especially since they had only recently spent nearly three weeks on shore leave together.
“I’m not entirely sure,” she said. “But I think there may have been some tension between them ever since they came back from Krellon a few weeks ago.”
There was a reason why he wasn’t exactly fond of the idea of his officers engaging in relationships with each other. And while Starfleet was infamous for its proclivity of having long and detailed regulations on most aspects of the service, and had quite a few guidelines regarding fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel, there were no rules against members of a starship crew, of any rank or position, to become romantically involved with each other.
And Michael could appreciate that it was unrealistic to expect people who served together on a relatively large starship which practically functioned like a small community, not to gravitate towards each other over time. He also understood that this could also lead to serious challenges as well, such as when Gene Edison, his former first officer who had fallen in love with ship’s security chief Nora Laas had been tragically killed in action while at her side. It had taken the usually steadfast Bajoran a long time to get over that terrible loss.
Star seemed to know what he was thinking. "I'll keep an eye on them," she said, and he nodded. "Now, about that ship concert," she added, clearly not wishing to stay on the subject, most likely since she possessed a more liberal view on inter-ship romances than he did. "I hear you've gotten a sneak peek at some of the acts already."
He smiled, remembering DeMara impressive rehearsal he had witnessed the previous day. No, it hadn’t been Rossini, which he would have preferred, and the performance had felt a little bit too forced and risqué for his tastes, but there was no doubt it would be a hit with the crew once they got to see her and her troop singing and tap dancing all over the stage in a week’s time. “Yes, I was lucky enough to get an early taste.”
She offered him a beaming grin. “Rank hath its privileges.”
“Indeed. And from what I’ve seen, they will quite literally bring the house down,” he said.
“Bridge to Captain.”
Michael glanced towards the ceiling upon hearing Lieutenant Alendra’s voice who was apparently the duty bridge officer at present. “Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
“Sir, we’ve just picked up a ship on an intercept course. And they’re in a real hurry to get to us.”
Michael and his first officer exchanged puzzled looks, neither of them expecting a rendezvous until they reached the Aldebaran system where Eagle was due to link up with the warp sled.
“We’ll be right there, Owens out,” he said and stood.
“Are we expecting guests?” Star asked as she followed him onto the bridge.
“Not to my knowledge,” he said just before he stepped through the parting doors and walked onto the bridge where Alendra had already gotten up from the command chair to make way for him.
“Sensors have just identified her as the Alexander Hamilton. And she’s doing warp nine point two,” she said.
Lieutenant Lance Stanmore turned around from the operations console he was currently manning. "Sir, according to her transponder signal she’s carrying Admiral Throl’s flag.”
Michael nodded. Throl was his commanding officer but it was unusual for him to come out in person to speak to him. In fact, he could not remember the last time they had met under such circumstances. Whatever it was he wanted, it was very urgent, very important, or quite possibly both.
Alendra had moved to the tactical board on the horseshoe-shaped console behind and above the command area. “Sir, the admiral is requesting permission to beam onboard.”
“Helm, drop out us out of warp and prepare for the rendezvous,” Michael said.
“Aye, sir,” responded Ensign Srena and after only a moment, the Andorian had cut the warp engines as evidenced by the settling starscape on the view screen. “We’ll be in transporter range in four minutes.”
Michael turned to look at Alendra first. “Lieutenant, advise the Hamilton that we’re ready to receive the admiral,” he said and then to his first officer: “I guess we’re having a guest after all.”
She dipped her head slightly. “I shall welcome the admiral on board and show him directly to your ready room.”
Just a few minutes later Tazla Star received Admiral Throl in the transporter room.
Tazla liked Throl.
The Denobulan flag officer, almost a full head shorter than she, didn’t carry with him the same kind of arrogance and standoffishness which was often commonplace amongst members of the Admiralty. It was also refreshing not to be subject to the often unspoken but almost always judgmental looks she received from officers of his rank who were not willing to look beyond her blemished record which had ultimately led to her months-long stint at the Starfleet stockade.
Of course she understood that suspicion was justified, after all, the decisions she had made in her past had led to preventable casualties, even if there had been mitigating circumstances, and had it not been for the Dominion War, she most likely would still be in that prison cell today.
Yet Throl seemed to be thinking none of those things as he bounded down the transporter platform, evidencing his great energy and defying his age, and then offered Star a typically wide Denobulan grin after she had formally given him permission to come onboard.
She escorted the admiral up to deck one during which Throl made a few polite comments about the ship and her crew but refused to give away any indication as to the purpose of his visit.
“Michael, it is so good to see you again,” said Throl once he had entered the ready room along with Tazla Star. He had quickly crossed the small office while Owens had left his chair and then vigorously shaken the captain’s hand with both of his.
“Admiral, always a pleasure,” Owens said, returning the friendly smile even if he was biologically incapable of mirroring the Denobulan’s width. “Can I offer you something?”
“I know you are fond of tonic waters,” the admiral said. “I’ll try one, thank you.”
Star beat Owens to the replicator and ordered three beverages before placing them on the captain’s desk.
“I was just pointing out to Commander Star what a fine ship and crew you have here.”
Throl may not have been the most typical Starfleet admiral she had encountered but making general platitudes seemed to be an inherent part of a flag officers repertoire.
“Thank you, sir, we’re all very proud of her,” he said.
"I'm glad we finally got her in for that much-needed overhaul," the admiral continued as he took a sip from the tonic water but without settling down in the chair. "Uh, bitter. But not bad, not bad at all," he said, the unfamiliar beverage distracting him only momentarily. "Starfleet has been very pleased with Eagle’s performance and the new modifications will ensure that she remains one of the fleet’s most reliable ships of the line.”
Owens exchanged a quick look with her before he considered the admiral again. “That’s good to hear and I have every confidence that she will.”
“So do I, Michael,” he said and took in the ready room. “I don’t think I’ve been on Eagle since you first took her on her maiden voyage. I really don’t get out enough.” He stopped in front of the large canvas of the colorful painting of a green landscape surrounding a yellow country home which hung on the far wall. “That’s quite something. Reminds me of an Edward Hopper.”
Tazla threw Owens another look, this time surprised to find that Throl was apparently somewhat of an art aficionado and judging by the captain’s expression he was just as surprised.
Owens smirked as he joined him. “Nothing quite as fancy, I’m afraid. It’s a watercolor painting of my family home on Earth. It was done a few decades ago by a close friend of my father’s.”
Tazla was out of her element, not being particularly familiar with art, all she could really tell from her rudimentary knowledge was that it had been painted in the style of realism and that she had always thought it odd that Owens had it in his office, since it had clearly once belonged to his father with whom he’d had a conflicted relationship while he had still been alive. Not to mention that as a self-proclaimed explorer, she would have expected him to decorate his office with something less homey.
The admiral turned away from the painting and to Owens. “I was very sorry to hear about your father’s passing and that I was not able to attend the funeral. We lost a great man.”
Owens nodded, acknowledging his sentiment but said nothing.
He hadn't opened up to her much about how he felt after his father had passed away just a few weeks ago and while they had still been on Earth. She had actually been right there with him, on shore leave on a boat on the Australian coast, when he had gotten the news. And it had been obvious that it had hit him hard. Much harder, she guessed, than he would have expected. Shore leave had naturally been cancelled, at least for the captain and she had spent a bit of time speaking to him afterwards, but very little of what he had talked about had actually given her any insight into how he had felt about his father when he had been alive, or now, that he had passed.
“Admiral, I take it you didn’t come all the way out here for a social visit. Not that we don’t appreciate you joining us,” Owens said and indicated towards one of the two chairs facing his desk.
Throl nodded and took a seat, followed by Owens. Tazla took the remaining chair by the admiral’s side. “Yes, of course. I’m sure you have been wondering about that and I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. In fact, it is quite imperative that we discuss the matter I’ve come to see you without further delay.”
“I assume your personal visit means that we are no longer heading for the Pleiades,” said Owens, doing a decent job of trying to mask his disappointment even if he wasn’t entirely successful.
"Just to be clear, it is merely delayed. Not canceled," he said quickly. "Now that the war is over, Starfleet still has every intention to allocate some of our admittedly dwindled resources to the purposes of expanding our reach into previously uncharted regions of space."
Owens nodded. “That is good to hear. What is the nature of this delay, Admiral?”
"The Federation Council was contacted five days ago by representatives from the Krellon Star Alliance asking for urgent assistance with a medical emergency on one of their border colonies. An outbreak of a highly infectious viral disease of sorts which has mystified their medical community and has spread across the entire planet in a matter of days."
“The Krellonians?” Owens said, clearly surprised. “I cannot recall a time they have ever sought out any kind of assistance from the Federation.”
“They have a number of trade treaties with us,” said Tazla who was in her element when it came to galactic politics thanks to her intelligence background. “It is a mostly one-sided affair in which we export quite a few resources to them for very little import in return and ostensibly to foster improved relationships with their highly xenophobic government. They’ve also imposed very strict guidelines on any trade or travel arrangements. Last I heard, Federation ships are not allowed to cross in Krellonian space and any cargo is usually transferred onto their own freighters at the border.”
Throl nodded, "That is exactly right, Commander," he said and looked back at the captain. "As you can imagine, the Federation Council believes this to be a possible step to improve and perhaps even normalize relationships between our people. Following the war, we are desperate for new allies and if there is even a small chance that this could lead to more than a costly trade agreement, the Council is willing to extend any help that has been requested."
“Not to mention trying to be a good neighbor,” said Tazla.
Throl offered her grin. “And that, of course.”
“What kind of help have they asked for exactly? What do we know about the medical situation on their world?” Owens asked.
“Very little, I’m afraid. They have not been willing to share any details about the nature of their medical crisis beyond what I’ve told you.”
"Krellonian space is deep in the Beta Quadrant," said Tazla. "It would take us weeks to get there. There must be closer ships which could respond to this emergency, not to mention actual hospital ships which would be better suited for such a mission."
“All very true, Commander. However, Eagle has been requested specifically for this assignment.”
This brought up both officers short. Alarm bells were already beginning to sound in her mind but Owens asked the question first. “Why us? If this is such a critical emergency and they’re reaching out to us for the first time in what seems like forever, why would they request a very specific starship?”
“They haven’t told us. Our best guess is that it might have something to do with your pilot.”
“Lif?” she said.
He nodded. “There aren’t many Krellonians in Starfleet. They can probably be counted on one hand. Lif Culsten I understand is fairly well connected within the Krellonian government even if I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly how due to the secrecy in which the Krellonians like to shroud themselves in. As it turns out, Mister Culsten hasn’t been exactly forthcoming with his family connections either, according to his file.”
Owens uttered a sigh and tugged down on his uniform jacket which Tazla immediately interpreted as a sign of discomfort. She didn’t blame him at all. “Admiral, I have to be honest, I don’t like any of this.”
“I didn’t think you would, Michael.”
“The last time we were asked to travel to a world to seek out a potential new ally, the mission turned into a disaster. And mostly because of how Starfleet had decided to handle that situation internally.”
She was thankful that he had not looked her way when saying this, considering that she’d had something to do with the way things had turned out on the mission he was referring to.
Throl acknowledged this with a small nod. "I know what you are thinking. This will not be another Tiaita. Yes, Starfleet is desperate for allies but not nearly as much as it was during the darkest days of the war. We are not bending over backward to accommodate the Krellonians. Your mission is to go to their planet and assist them in a medical capacity in any way you can. If you are able to create some goodwill amongst their leadership in the process: Excellent. If it turns out you are not able to assist at all: Than so be it. Neither I nor the Federation Council expects you do to do anything beyond that."
Owens nodded slowly. “There is still the point of getting there.”
“You’ll continue on to Aldebaran and link up with the warp sled. But instead of heading towards Cardassian and Ullian space you’ll be going towards the Amargosa Diaspora. Krellon space lies just beyond. If the sled works out as advertised, the trip will take just a few days.”
“Admiral, a question, if I may?” said Tazla.
“If this is merely a medical mission—putting aside for the moment that we were specifically requested—why did you come all the way out here in person to tell us this? You could have briefed us about this mission just as well over subspace.”
The admiral hesitated for a moment and the look on Owens’ face made it clear that he had been wondering about the exact same thing. “Commander, would you mind giving us the room for a moment?” Throl said.
She shot a brief look at the captain who gave her a nod. “Of course,” she said, stood and left the room.
* * *
“I don’t really appreciate keeping secrets from my first officer, Admiral,” Michael said after the doors had closed behind Tazla Star.
“Nothing I’m about to tell you has to be kept from her, Michael. I just wanted to tell you first before you decided if you wish to share this information.”
He leaned back in his chair slightly, bracing himself for whatever was coming next.
Throl took another sip from his beverage and allowed his gaze to briefly wander over to the large painting before he spoke. Then he looked back at the captain. “This mission is being handled through the Department of Special Affairs and Investigations.”
That in itself was, of course, no great revelation or reason for concern since SAI often took an interest in missions which could have wider implications. But Michael understood why Throl had decided to tell him this in private. SAI had been headed by his late father and what Throl likely didn't know, was that Jonathan Owens had very surprisingly asked him—demanded really—that Michael leave Eagle and came to work for him just a day before he had died.
“There isn’t much more I can tell you since SAI is almost as bad at sharing information as the Krellonian government seems to be. What I can tell you is that since your father’s passing, the agency is being led by a man I think you know quite well.”
"Jarik," Michael said, referring to his half-Vulcan former Academy roommate with whom he had reconnected while on Earth recently and after he had been startled to learn that he had been working for his father for years.
Throl nodded. "Yes. He has been named interim-director and will assume operational command of this mission. He is awaiting you in the Arkaria system which is practically on your way to Krellon space and he will brief you in more detail once you get there."
“I’m confused,” Michael said. “You mentioned that there were no more details to share. That the Krellonians had been very vague about their request.” He continued on before Throl had a chance to speak up again. “No, let me guess. There is more, it’s just that you’re not privy to that information. Something else is going on here. I mean why else would SAI be involved and presumably make you come see me in person instead of using subspace.”
The admiral nodded slowly. “I suspect as much, yes. But Michael, I am not negating on my point from earlier. No matter what else Jarik and SAI are up to, your mission as far as Starfleet Command is concerned is clear. You are to assist the Krellonians with their medical emergency. You are not authorized for anything beyond that. This is not an intelligence op and you are not expected, or in fact cleared, to carry out any kind of clandestine mission against a foreign power.”
“Right,” he said, sounding unconvinced. “And if Jarik asks me to? You said it yourself, he has operational command and Arkaria is at the outer edges of Federation space.”
"Michael, I trust your judgment. You have navigated these kinds of waters before. And whatever decision you end up making, I will back you completely."
“I appreciate the vote of confidence.”
Throl stood. “You’ve earned it,” he said and shook his hand once Michael had stood also. “Watch your back out there and good luck.”
Michael had called Star back into his office to escort the admiral to the transporter room but the nervous energy that Throl’s visit had created didn’t allow him to settle back down in his chair.
The expedition he and his crew had been looking forward to had been put on hold and instead he had been tasked to cross half a quadrant to help out a people suffering from an unknown affliction. Had this been the end of the story, he would not have given the matter another thought, but as was so often the case, there was much more to this seemingly innocuous mission than met the eye, the involvement of his late father’s agency the surest proof of this.
It also couldn’t be a coincidence that Jon Owens had summoned him just a few weeks earlier to his secretive base hidden beneath an old Russian mine to get him to drop everything that mattered in his life to join up with his cause, whatever that may have been.
He had said no at the time, even if after learning of his death due to a heart condition he had kept from him he had wished that he had at least given it some further consideration or at least been less dismissive to his father’s request.
But Jonathan Owens had never shied away from meddling in his Starfleet career, leading many to suspect—him included—that he had pulled the right strings at the right time to get him his own command. It had been a source of constant tension between the two men.
His father had spent most of his early childhood ignoring his existence but when he had managed to drive Matthew—his older brother—away from his family by his constant pressure to follow his own footsteps and join Starfleet, that attention had suddenly shifted on him and Michael had eventually given in. That influence hadn't ended there and for the longest time, Michael had been unable to shake the feeling of his influential father controlling his life from the shadows.
His eyes found the painting of his childhood home which first and foremost reminded him of his better days when his mother had still been alive and before his brother had left it behind for good. Yes, it had been his father's but he had always drawn strength from it, perhaps despite its previous owner. It had served as a reminder where he came from and perhaps what he was trying to leave behind.
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